The revival of humanisms

I want to explore the idea of Greek philosophy as a meeting-point between various humanisms, including Christian humanism, atheist or agnostic humanism, Islamic humanism and Jewish humanism.

These days, I would describe myself as a Christian humanist. I mean ‘humanist’ in the Renaissance sense – someone who loves and wants to revive ancient philosophy and culture. And I mean ‘Christian humanist’ in the sense of believing that Christianity complements and even completes Greek philosophy.

Plato, Seneca and Aristotle given homage in a medieval manuscript

For many Medieval and Renaissance Christians, as well as for some Jewish and Islamic philosophers, the great Greek and Roman philosophers were prophets or saints. Their profound insights into human nature and the universe helped to lead people out of suffering, like Virgil leading Dante out of Hell in the Divine Comedy.

The revelation of Greek philosophy is this: much of our suffering comes from our thoughts, beliefs and values. We construct our own prisons. We can liberate ourselves from these prisons by learning to examine our souls and to be wiser in our thinking. We can use our reason to shine a light onto our unconscious habits, and to create new, wiser habits. We can learn to take care of our souls, to be the doctors to ourselves.

We cause ourselves suffering by caring for the wrong things, by putting our trust in the wrong things, by worshipping false gods (as Plato puts it), and building our houses on sand (as Jesus put it). We can find a deeper fulfillment by looking within, by cultivating an inner garden of consciousness and reason, and also by cultivating caring and ethical relationships with other people.

Both atheist / agnostic and theist Greek philosophers would agree with what I’ve written above. But they disagreed in their definition of ‘flourishing’, and on the question of where reason comes from. Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Pythagoras and the Stoics thought consciousness comes from God, while Epicurus thought it was a cosmic fluke. I was always more on the theistic side of Greek philosophy. I thought it more likely that our consciousness is God-given, that it’s a fragment of God (or the Logos). I also believed, rather more speculatively, that this Logos is providential, guiding us towards an end or telos.

Why ‘Christian’ humanism?

I’ve become a Christian humanist this year for two reasons. Firstly, I believe in grace. I’ve moved from believing in the Stoic Logos, which is a rather abstract and chilly cosmic intelligence which doesn’t particularly care about individual cases, to believing in a God who loves us as individuals and who occasionally intervenes in our life, lifts us up and heals us through grace.

It was one such experience of grace, back in 2001, which helped me recover from post-traumatic stress disorder and which led me to Greek philosophy. I’ve had some more experiences like that this year. I don’t think this makes me in any way special – such experiences are in fact fairly common among humans, we’re just embarrassed to speak about them in our materialist culture.

Why would I interpret these experiences in a Christian framework? Partly because this year I experienced them in a Christian context, and partly because the New Testament gives a better account of such experiences when talking about the healing power of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s love. Greek philosophers don’t really talk about God’s love healing us (although the playwright Sophocles does). In Greek philosophy, God is an abstract concept you reach through rational dialectic. In Judeo-Christianity, God is a Being with whom you can have a loving relationship. I believe the latter is true.

Feeding our need for community

The second reason I became a Christian is that I was hungry for spiritual community. I’ve been a total individualist all my adult life – a freelance journalist, usually single, socially anxious, bit of a hermit. I am the archetypal modern liberal, suspicious of all communities and organisations, yet longing to find one I can call home. I agree with Jean Vanier that loneliness is one of the great sicknesses of our liberal culture.

I am all for trying to develop ethical communities for non-believers where, in the words of Daniel Dennett, ‘people who are not otherwise loved can be taken in and their lives can be made important’. I would love philosophy clubs to be such places, as well as organisations like the School of Life, the Sunday Assembly, Action for Happiness clubs. I’ve worked with all these organisations and think they’re on to something important. But there’s a way to go yet, in terms of creating spaces where people can bring all of themselves – their baggage, their wounds, their vulnerability – and feel ministered to.

This year, I’ve been exploring Christian community. I guess I started my explorations at the end of last year, when I was dating a lovely girl, and we went to stay at a cottage in Wales with some other friends of hers. They all turned out to be Christians, in fact one of them was a vicar. This initially freaked me out (trapped in a cottage with Christians! aaargh!) but actually I was really impressed by their commitment to one another, by their sincerity and their humour. They were human beings, not Bible-bashing zombies. They listened to each other, cared for one another, allowed each other to be fallible human beings.

The power of small groups

The vicar at that cottage invited me on the Alpha course, which I did at the beginning of this year. I really enjoyed it, partly because of the power of small groups – it’s a wonderful experience to turn up, once a week, with the same group of people, to talk, listen and support each other. We still meet, every other Tuesday evening. Roughly half of us are non-Christian. Humanist groups and philosophy groups have also drawn on this power of small groups in the past and are doing so again. For example, Richard Layard, the founder of Action for Happiness, was inspired by attending a Quaker small group for a year or so, and is now launching an Alpha-style course for humanists (more on that when I get the details).

Of course, the Alpha course has some slightly more, er, supernatural aspects, like asking the Holy Spirit to come in to you. There’s also an emphasis on praying for each other. I personally think this is a beautiful practice. Think of prayer as wishing each other well, deeply. Christians pray, sometimes, by putting a hand on each other’s shoulders. I think touch is important. These days, we hear ‘touch’ and because we’re liberals we think ‘Ugh! Violation of privacy!‘ But we need touch. We’re primates. We have a touch-deficit in our lives. Touch can be as simple as shaking each other’s hands and giving each other the ‘sign of peace’. Touch is healing.

Christian community also puts music at the centre. Initially, I found the contemporary worship very off-putting. I felt it was a desecration of the religion of rock & roll. How dare they play rock music – they’re Christians, the epitome of Uncool. Even worse, some of the Christians there would put their hands in the air and dance. I would look at them, as Michal looked down at David, and think, you poor, poor people.

Michal (top right) looking down on David in contempt as he dances in front of the Ark

It is absolutely fine to put your hands in the air and dance at a club or music festival. It’s fine to raise your hands in a diamond-gesture to worship Jay-Z; fine to raise your hands in worship of Manchester City or Blackpool FC; fine to raise your hands to worship your country at a football match (less cool at a a nationalist rally). But if you raise your hands to worship God then, my friend, you are a nutter.

Well…I still think most Christian rock is pretty cheesy. But some of it is OK, and a handful of songs I actually like, and I’m OK with people raising their hands to worship God. I like worshipping God with other people, through music. No, actually, I love it. It’s a really powerful, wonderful experience, hearing a hundred or a thousand people lifting up their voices around you, affirming your deepest beliefs. Again, humanist groups do this too – I occasionally play the drums at the Sunday Assembly, and sometimes people even raise their hands to the music. Charismatic atheists!

Humanism is also civic, outward-looking, engaged with society. I admire the social work which some of my Christian friends do, in an effort to follow the example of Christ. Some of them have gone off to live in deprived estates, some of them left lucrative careers to set up charities, some of them went to live with mentally disabled people, some of them turned their homes into refuges for addicts.

And I admire the leadership of the Christian community I’ve been engaged with – Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. I admire their humility, the fact they run a huge global movement but haven’t been seduced by money, power or fame. They still ride around on their bicycles and live in the vicarage. Thousands of people come to their church, yet they know the name of all the people in my Alpha group, and care about us. Their community is not perfect by any means, but it’s more nurturing and less corrupted by money or power than most philosophical / self-help communities I’ve encountered. The good thing about belonging to a very old and established church like the C of E is it’s bigger than you and your ego. Newer churches or self-help movements can easily become vehicles for their leaders’ egos.

James Randi, left, is good at ministering to the humanist community.

It is not at all easy to create a community where people feel loved. It’s hard to care about other people, because people are annoying and needy. So we keep other people at arms’ length. I remember a famous philosopher saying of someone ‘oh, they’re very needy’. In Greek philosophy and liberal humanism, neediness is weakness and autonomy is strength. Christian communities, by contrast, are OK with people’s neediness. Christian priests are trained to minister to that need. Does humanism have servants, people who are willing to give their lives to minister to other people and to put them before their own egos? I think James Randi is close – he ministers to the Skeptic community, writing postcards to Skeptics around the world, keeping in touch, giving out hugs at The Amazing Meeting.

I have friends trying to cultivate caring communities for atheists and I’m all for that, because humans need community, and as humanists, we share a common tradition in Greek philosophy. Personally, I would also like to see the revival of the Church of England, and the revival of the Christian humanist tradition within the Church. I would like to see the revival of all humanisms, and of friendship between them.

Comments:

  • Rob ODDY says:

    Dear Jules,
    I have read and re- read this piece now 4 x tonight . Stopping . Pausing . Reflecting . And coming back to it
    I am really intrigued as to this turn in “the road” of your life, and the way you espouse a new view, as always I watch, listen, read and hope to garner my own road which as (is) the case for us all.
    And for you I hope that this road, finds you well, and thriving
    Rob x

  • Jules Evans says:

    Thanks Rob,
    It’s a slightly scary new road for me, in that I don’t want to write *just* for Christians, yet sometimes Christianity seems pretty much all or nothing – so how can you communicate it usefully to a non-Christian audience? Without turning them off at the first Hallelujah?? Greek philosophy is easier to evangelize to a skeptical and rationalist audience, because the God bits of it are, as it were, optional. Not the case with Christianity.
    Something I’ll have to try and figure out.
    Anyway, thanks for your good wishes.
    J

    • Ben Cohen says:

      The fantastic gift you have Jules, is that you are ‘bi-lingual’ (maybe multi-lingual). You can explain how people in one ‘camp’ think, feel and understand, to the other ‘camp’ in their own language. It’s a challenge, but also an amazing opportunity.

      Long may you keep seeing connections and not barriers.

  • Margaret Kelly says:

    Jules, you give, as best I can tell, three reasons for becoming a Christian: you believe that grace is real, you believe that God is a Being with whom you can have a loving relationship, and you think that Christianity offers a vital spiritual community. These might all be necessary reasons for becoming a Christian, but are they sufficient? Doesn’t a Christian need to affirm that the Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, is the Son of God, the third person of the Trinity, and that he died on the cross and physically rose from the dead on the third day?

    If I believe that the reasons you cited were enough to become a Christian, I would probably become one, too. But it seems like any form of Christianity requires that you accept these basic precepts about Jesus of Nazareth. Now, I’m no historian or Biblical scholar, but the smattering of reading I’ve done in these areas has taught me that learned people who have spent their lives studying these disciplines are not in agreement as to what exactly went down with Jesus – whether he physically rose from the dead, whether he claimed to be God, and so on. And as long as a religion requires me to accept as historical fact something that is contested by the people who specialize in the historical facts, I don’t see how I can follow that religion in good conscience.

    I’m interested in hearing more about your conversion, though. Like you, I treasure humanist wisdom, and I’d love adopt the complementary tenets and practices of Christian faith. But I can’t do it until my intellect permits it.

  • Margaret Kelly says:

    First sentence of the second paragraph should read, “If I believed,” sorry. And perhaps “If I thought” is better.

  • Jules Evans says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Crikey, hard questions.

    The reason I believe in a loving God with whom we can have a relationship is because of Jesus. I think he brings God close, closer than He was ever in Greek philosophy. He is the Logos made flesh. In evolutionary terms, he is the moment where the Logos, evolving in us, becomes fulfilled in humans.

    I think to believe in grace, as I do, is to believe in the message of Jesus – he told us of a God who forgives, a God who runs to meet the prodigal son, a God who seeks out the weak, the lost, the broken, a God of second chances.

    As to the resurrection: I can believe that the Son of God rose from the dead and was also able to raise other people from the dead. I say this somewhat blithely – I’m sure it was absolutely terrifying and put the fear of God in people at the time. I believe in the immortality of the soul, I just am not sure what form this immortality takes. Life is so short and brutal for some people, it would seem strange to me if we just had one life, one go at the computer game, and then were immediately divided into the eternally saved or the eternally damned. That’s why, up until now, reincarnation has made more sense to me. This would put me in a very small group of Christians…basically only Origen! But I’m really open to be taught differently.

    Then there’s the tricky question of whether Jesus is the ONLY path to God. Again, I don’t know. Like everyone these days, I know many people who seem to me deeply spiritual who are in different faiths or philosophies. Whether that means they follow some form of the Way, which means they know Jesus…I don’t know.

    Believing in a loving God who intervenes through grace is tricky because there’s the question of why there is so much evil and suffering in the world in the first place.

    Previously I’d been happy to think of the Logos as an impersonal force of conscious loving intelligence that evolves over millennia in stages – from lizards to birds, from birds to mammals, from mammals to primates, from primates to humans, from humans to Socrates. The evil that occurs is a result of earlier stages of evolution – animals are violent rapist genocidal thugs, particularly primates, and we’re primates, so that’s why we do the things we do. Our new-born conscious ethical side is very weak, our primate side pretty strong. The Logos expands slowly, and there are some vicious moments of back-sliding to previous stages in its evolution.

    This makes more obvious sense to me than the Christian theory that evil comes into the world through the Devil and his horde of minions.

    I suppose you could interpret the Devil and his minions as the forces of this world, this stage of evolution, which humanity is trying to evolve beyond. Dawkins said we’re capable of ‘rebelling against the tyranny of our selfish replicators’ – so perhaps that tyranny is the tyranny of the ‘Powers and Dominions’ that St Paul talks of, who want to keep us in this stage of evolution. When we negate our selves and surrender to God, we’re conquering those powers and rising up, freeing ourselves from our bondage. Who knows!!

    I’m so new to this stuff Margaret, as you can see – I’m not a very good guide at this stage because I don’t really know how to drive yet, as it were. I guess these would be the five pillars of my faith, which you articulated well (I added the first and last):

    1) I believe reason and consciousness is God-given rather than a cosmic fluke, and that God wants human consciousness to expand into greater wisdom and love of Himself and His creation.
    2) I believe in God as a Being with whom you can have a loving relationship, who intervenes in our lives in moments of grace.
    3) I believe in the vitality of Christian community and the joy of worshipping God together and praying for each other.
    4) I believe in Jesus the Liberator and Intercessor, and the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and the Great Connector (by this I mean the Spirit connects us to each other and to God).

    For the rest I will seek out wiser people to explain stuff to me – I’m going to do an introductory theology course at the Bishop of London’s theological college, St Mellitus, on Saturday mornings. I met the teacher there, Graham Tomlin, this week, and he seemed very much a wise Christian Humanist – he told me about Justin Martyr, who wrote a lot about the Logos. So I’ll go along there and argue away, and if they kick me out I’ll know I’m not a proper Christian. Come too!

    http://sptc.htb.org.uk/courses/school-of-theology

    All the best,

    Jules

  • Jules Evans says:

    Here’s the syllabus for the theology course, which starts in October.

    http://static.alpha.org/smc/schooloftheology/SOT-schedule-2013.pdf

  • Karen says:

    “creating spaces where people can bring all of themselves – their baggage, their wounds, their vulnerability – and feel ministered to”.
    That does indeed seem to be the challenge for secular groups. Offering such a space means being able to cope with and help (minister to) the really troubled. It seems to take a faith or a leader to be able to do that well.

    • Jules Evans says:

      Hey Karen
      Well…its very difficult to do well for churches too, and I think priests need help and support. The vicar of the church I’ve been going to told his congregation he was getting therapy earlier this year, which is pretty brave cos sometimes therapy can be seen as a sort of substitute for faith. I personally think they complement each other. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter, who has depression, has been working on introducing ‘happiness courses’ into the church…

      Anyway, would be interesting to see how humanist chaplains get training to help minister to people’s needs – they may have good training.

      All best

      Jules

  • Ashley says:

    Jules,

    This weeks journal is an ‘Outing’. It came from the shadows.

    I have loved your writing for over a year and take great strength from your life and experiences. But this? Alpha? I have always found your work so Humanist and beautiful. Im glad you have found what you are looking for and a community that has welcomed you. I hope, though, that you still remain able to be embracing of all aspects of human nature and not compromised by Alpha’s sexual orientational Heterosexual Demands and Homophobia. If I have understood anything from your writing at all, it was your embrace of Life on Life’s Terms. Never change.

    Alpha has been the reason that I have avoided the Christian Church and embracing everything you mention in your piece, which made me feel sad and lonely.

    There is, and Im sure that you will correct me if I am currently wrong, a strong homophobic stance with Alpha. I know this because of my experiences in within Alpha. I had to leave as my sexuality was against the doctrine.

    I remain lost in my search for spiritual acceptance and ease within the community you describe. I was patronised and sympathised with.

    I found Alpha to be the same as a Country Church who described me as the Devils Spawn. They just where denim.

    • Jules Evans says:

      Hey Ashley

      Well, in the spirit of ‘outings’, let me alienate all my new Christian friends by saying I experimented with bisexuality a bit when I was an undergrad. I figured that the lines between homosexual and heterosexual aren’t rigid and we’re all somewhere on the spectrum, it’s just that most people don’t have the guts to experiment. I wanted to find out if I was at all into men. I decided I wasn’t particularly, but that’s because of the libido I was born with, not anything to do with any ethical judgement. I just personally prefer girls, because they’re curvier, they have less facial stubble, plus I’m really into the whole boobs and vagina thing. But if tomorrow I suddenly had a revelation and decided I preferred guys, I’d be on the first Tube to Vauxhall, so to speak.

      I think some people – many people, in fact – are born gay, and God didn’t give them a strong sexual inclination towards their own sex just to mess with them. God loves us both, with all our imperfections and eccentricities.

      As to Alpha, the most important thing is your relationship with God. Churches are human constructions, and as such they’re fallible and flawed. One’s relationship to church, it seems to me, is a distant second to one’s relationship to God . Letting a particular church or congregation get in the way of your relationship with God is like not visiting your father because you don’t like the doorman at his block of flats.

      There are lots of churches that are very welcoming to gays, where the priests are gay or people in the congregation are gay. My parents go to one such church – St Vedast in the City – which is very gay-friendly. Here are some of others:

      http://changingattitude.org.uk/find-a-church

      I will happily go with you to one of them if you want some company – St Martins in the Fields is meant to be an awesome church, for example.

      Anyway, back to Alpha and HTB, I asked Nicky Gumbel about this issue when I did the Alpha course, he said he’d written a book back in the 80s which had said homosexual acts were a sin. He said…I think…that his thinking on the issue had shifted since then. He wrote something else on it about a decade ago, which is discussed in this interesting blog post:

      http://magistraetmater.blog.co.uk/2009/04/13/nicky-gumbel-evangelicals-and-homosexuality-5939787/

      What he said to me was that clearly there has been a generational shift on this issue, and for people my age (30s), it just seems obvious that homosexuality isn’t a sin and that God loves gay people and bisexuals as much as straight people. Any church that banishes Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Proust, Oscar Wilde is clearly…well…it’s going to be a fairly boring church.

      Anyway, just to reiterate, in my utterly amateur opinion the Holy Spirit does not respect the shame-boundaries we erect between people or castes or ethnicities, all through history God’s love has overflowed such boundaries. In our generation, the Spirit seems to be on the move again, overflowing this stupid boundary between homosexuals and straight people.

      If you believe in God and believe He loves you, come and worship Him. I am going to start going to a church called Kings Cross Church – I don’t know if its gay friendly but I will ask, and if it isn’t, I will find another church!

  • Ashley says:

    I’ve just read your post. Thank you – you dear soul.

    Gay Friendly feels like Black Friendly!

    Anyhow – your new Friends, I’m sure, will love you more.

    I too experiment constantly, in my head, with sexual attractions. I’ve had long relationships with both sexes. Latterly a man for 15 years. We had a child together but I’m now single and open to the winds of change again – that said..it’s never taken me to Vauxhall.

    Boobs and Vagina made me laugh a lot.

    God bless you.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Margaret Kelly says:

    Jules, I wish I could go with you! Jesus brings God closer, Jesus is the Logos made flesh – it all sounds very wonderful, and it resonates nicely with my Roman Catholic-humanist education and my desire to see my love of Greek philosophy elevated and expanded in a broader and more authoritative context, but I’m just not convinced. I wish I could be. Maybe I need to do more reading.

    The sticking point for me is always that Christianity insists on historical and philosophical truths which are in fact contested by lots of people [perhaps good people, perhaps even holy people] who know more about these things than I do. You say you “can believe that the Son of God rose from the dead” – but how to refute those who’ve spent their lives studying and praying over these things who say that he didn’t, in fact?

    Regardless, I’m looking forward to continuing to watch your trajectory. I really enjoyed your book and I think you might be a kindred spirit in some ways. Please be in touch if you’re ever in New York! margaretbkelly@gmail.com

  • Eliott says:

    I’m not quite sure whether I should write my thoughts on your last note. I’m torn really. For me, your admission that you’re now a Christian discredits all the work on promoting philosophy that you have done. I thought the whole point of your project was to illustrate how one could live through the development of reason; facing the often stark and godless reality of life by developing the self. Other than references to the Stoical Logos, God(s) seemed to be absent from your work. That attracted me to it. Now you seem to be some sort of half convinced evangelical who believes in something called grace! Moreover, you seem to imply that Christianity/Anglicanism should be revived to help shore up a sense of community! You could say the same for working men’s clubs etc. Communities are to be found everywhere if you look. So instead of facing the world armed with a philosophical and indeed our current scientific understanding of the world i.e. man is likely to be on her own bereft of God; that our time is limited; that we must make the best of it given our circumstance (Don Cupitt has some interesting things to say on this); you fall back on Christianity and something called grace. All that said, I wish you contentment, but I shan’t be reading you again.

  • Jules Evans says:

    You don’t sound torn at all!

    I’m sorry you feel like that, but I’m also surprised you should think God was absent from my writing – have you read Philosophy for Life? It’s written for believers and non-believers but I think it’s relatively clear that I was more of a theistic Stoic than an atheistic one. Some of the Greek philosophers I write about were atheist, some were theist…Just like some modern Stoics are theist, others are atheist.

    As I’ve tried to make clear, I’m all for shoring up *all* forms of humanist communities – including atheist ones – and I still love philosophy groups as a form of community for people who don’t necessarily believe in God or who aren’t sure (as well as for people who do believe in God).

    I think you’re being a bit harsh to say that me moving from being a theist Stoic to being a Christian discredits my whole project! Do you know me or my work that well, to be able to make that judgement?? I suspect you’ve only started reading me recently, or you’d know me better and be slower to judge. You’re being somewhat religious, in the negative sense of over-dogmatic and judgmental.

  • Alan Hynes says:

    Jules, just from reading your article it appears that your ‘drift’ (for want of a better word occurring to me!) is driven more by a spiritual impetus rather than an intellectual one (and I intend no latent criticism in that). However, I recently finished Roger Scruton’s ‘The Face of God’ and found it to be a book of some considerable insight. He bases much of it on the metaphysics of Kant and it can be dense in spots but it is worth the effort. Well worth a read.

  • Jules Evans says:

    Thanks Alan, sounds a good book. I’m reading another set of Gifford Lectures – William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience – at the moment, and enjoying it immensely. He is fascinating about religious experiences – he argues that we can’t necessarily know where they come from, but we can to some extent evaluate them based on the fruits, on the extent to which they transform a person or a community. Do they make them a better person, more human?

    This is ultimately the same test as for virtue ethics – does this way of life make the person more human, more flourishing? In both virtue ethics and Christianity, you have to try and evaluate the way of life partly by looking at the fruits of it in a person’s life.

    • Alan Hynes says:

      Jules, indeed for ‘by their fruits shall you know them’ and all that!

      There is a short book by the then Cardinal Ratzinger called ‘What It Means to Be a Christian’ (2005, San Francisco, Ignatius Press). It’s a interesting very short guide to the essentials of Christianity. It also, in its gentleness and humanity, surprising given the public persona of Ratzinger.

      On the philosophical front one book worth looking at is Gary Cox’s ‘How to Be an Existentialist’ (2009, London & New York, Continuum).

      As to Eliott’s point above: there appears to be some hard division in Eliott’s thought between Christianity. No such division exists, certainly not in my own branch of that, Catholicism. Christian thought not only made use of philosophical ideas but also was influenced by them and integrated them into their thought. Stoicism itself has influenced Christian thought – I only recently discussed Stoicism with a theologian and priest and was impressed by his knowledge of both. He and many other theologians have noted with interest the return of virtue ethics to philosophical discourse.

      • Jules Evans says:

        I know, virtue ethics is at the heart of Catholic philosophy, and its modern revival is in part thanks to Christian philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre. I guess MacIntyre’s After Virtue (which I read while writing Philosophy for Life in 2010) was part of getting me interested in Christian community.

  • Cathy HB says:

    Keep calm and carry on, Jules! Seriously, wishing you some quiet and peace so that you can ponder some more over your recent insights and discoveries.
    Again, thanks for providing such a stimulating newsletter. Coincidentally (?) chat broke out around our table at the weekend about Dante- a mass of confusion featuring Ninja turtles, computer games and Inferno amongst our three generations..! Yesterday an edition of Clive James’ new translation of The Divine Comedy (unlikely as that sounded to me) caught my eye in a bookshop. I started the trip to Hell, and was indeed surprised to encounter all your Greek philosophers there- then noticed you mentioned Dante at the beginning of this newsletter…
    Who knows where all this is leading, but very happy to be along for the ride!
    Many good wishes, CHB.

  • Mark says:

    I’m sort of in the same boat as Margaret Kelly. I’ve been there and back again with Christianity dozens of times (I’m in my fifties). It never seems to stick. I’ve always felt they have their finger on the right ethical/moral teachings, though, and I was happy to discover many of those teachings had been inherited from the Greco-Roman moralists—i.e., there was a more or less rational path to them; I didn’t have to surrender to reams of supernatural/methaphysical dogma. I know Christianity (any organized religion) ultimately comes down to the leap of faith. This late in my life, after trying so many times, I’ve finally realized that I just don’t have the leap-of-faith gene. (I’ve never had the same problem believing in God—the presence of a creative, sustaining force has always made perfect sense to me, and I feel that in my bones.) For most Christian confessions, that bald statement—I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is my savior—is the key to entry. As I understand it, the spritual gifts can begin to flow only after that key is turned. I’ve read deeply in Christianity—Catholicism mostly—and I’ve never found any practical advice about how that leap is to be managed. I’ve tried saying it, and I’ve tried believing it, to little or no avail, certainly to no lasting effect. The effort to convince myself that I believe is simply draining; it feels like the opposite of living a spiritually healthy life. If belief someday arrives and hits me on the head, then fine, I’ll go with it. Until then, I’ll do my best to live by the teachings that seem soundest to me.

  • Steven says:

    Hi Jules,

    I respect the fact that you seem to have chosen a new path in spirituality. As for me, I stay devoted to Stoicism until further notice (though I am aware of the dangers and difficulties that come with it). It is my way of dealing with fears, uncertainties and the condition humaine. Donald Robertson and Nassim Nicholas Taleb have written very nuanced about Stoicism. But again, I respect your new beliefs (it would be very unstoic not to do so) and look forward to your future work.

  • Richard Walker says:

    Jules,

    Just finished Philosophy for Life and find your hankering after spiritual ‘community’ something that somewhat resonates with my own thoughts. Good to read all of this and, though very surprised, I can trace the development of your thought in becoming a Christian. Christian Rock is, however, rather ropey ‘Slow Train Coming’ by Dylan though is definitely worth a listen. Great stuff. But I don’t think we were born with sin, and I have never thought that Christianity dealt with sex well at all. For the acceptance of purity upon birth and of our earthiness in adulthood, you must look to Christianity’s cousin – Islam. I have no official ‘faith’ as such, but am no longer an atheist. All at sea, I guess, considering which port to get off on. If you are interested, Gai Eaton’s ‘Islam and the Destiny of Man’ is worth the read. Will read your later developments with interest.

    Good luck!

  • Steven says:

    Jules,

    Having thought things through properly, I now better understand your current position. Sorry if I sounded defensive earlier, we clearly need open dialogue between the different beliefs.

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