’Science’ was originally a name for virtue, or a good habit–like making your bed or not doing that thing with your nose in public.
According to the thoughtful book The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison, when thirteenth-century Doctor-of-the-Church Thomas Aquinas filtered newly-recovered Greek philosophy through a Christian net, — which was more or less what Aquinas did with his life — he came to understood ‘science’ as ‘working out conclusions from first principles.’ It was one of a trio of virtues: intellectus (grasping the first principles in the first place) scientia (deriving conclusions from them) and sapientia (coming to terms with the highest and ultimate cause, namely God.)
Good people possessed scientia. It was a fine habit. They were able to arrive at conclusions from principles and evidence, unswayed by prejudice, rage, timidity or Fox News (Vulpes Fabulae).
Religion –religio–was also a virtue. I am oversimplifying Peter Harrison’s careful historical inquiry here, but perhaps religio could be ‘a disposition to worship the true God and live out a life of goodness.’ Insofar as this sense was true, it potentially transcended any one expression (Catholicism, say), by focussing on the timeless essence of the thing, namely the heart-to-God encounter that leads to a good life.
The opposite of religion could be ritual or idolatry–investing in spiritual scratchcards, as it were–or the equally empty pursuit of money, pleasure and stuff; or again the worship and pampering of Self; or even the slavish and fearful preoccupation with the Material Only.
Back in the early modern day, good people were defined by a kindly God-centred life and by applying logic to facts and arriving at conclusions. Scientia and Religio. Could perhaps do with a comeback.
Peter Harrison’s book is available on Kindle, and his first chapter, which arguably contains all the really good bits, is free to download.
‘I’m getting old,’ I complained to my wife. Old enough to see some much hyped Christian things crumble and fall. So sad. Today I was reminded of two.
Years ago I’d visited my publishers for a day of interviews and publicity shots. They’d shown me an exciting book they were hyping: Taming the Tiger. A few years on, large parts of it were revealed as sham- after its author scooped prestigious awards, spoke widely, and distributed 1.5m copies.
After the original publisher withdrew it (and also went into administration, though that was probably from publishing me rather than publishing Taming the Tiger) another took it on, reluctant to waste a good bestseller.
Second, in a few days time from today, a pastor called Kong Hee, whom I spent an hour interviewing back in the 1990s in Singapore when he was pastor of ‘City Harvest Church’, starts a three-year prison sentence. He is guilty of misdirecting some $35m of church funds, largely in an attempt to launch his wife as a crossover Christian-maintream singer. I liked him when I met him.
Yesterday I read in my beloved Psalm 45 the prayer to the Messiah-King: ‘ride out on behalf of truth, humility and justice.’
I enjoyed this quote from Ken Costa
When Jesus came to earth, he proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. The language of kingdoms can sound strange to us, in that it seems to signify territoriality. In the context of work, it may therefore be helpful to see the kingdom of God as “the sphere of God’s goodness” in the world. We are called to advance God’s kingdom, sharing the “sphere of goodness” and extending it as we operate with God’s values. Our actions at work have the potential to advance the kingdom of God and his “sphere of goodness,” or to hinder it–on both a macro and a micro level. Each time we tell the truth, make decisions fairly and with respect for others, or act with integrity, we are advancing this sphere, albeit in small ways.
Ken Costa, God at Work, p 16.
Here’s the problem:
- Take a completely healthy person. Put them in a humiliating hospital gown. Insert a cannula in each wrist, a blood-pressure cuff to their arm and a blood-oxygen monitor on their finger,
- Every few hours, send someone round to hurt them, perhaps by sticking a needle in them, putting stickers on them and then ripping them off or (for maximum fun) inserting and then removing a catheter into their urinary tract.
- Move them to a new bed at random times, even midnight.
- Keep them near the nurses’ station so they don’t sleep.
- Make sure they are in a ward with other stressed people, some who are calling out constantly, some who fight the nurses, some who are deaf, some who don’t speak English, and some who soil their bedclothes. Arrange for one or two to die if possible.
- Only answer the call bell sometimes.
- Give them food they don’t like at times they aren’t hungry.
- Hold them for an indefinite time.
- Have a consultant visit once per day for five minutes and issue contradictory messages about when they will be allowed to go home.
I suggest that after a week of this treatment, even a healthy person would be demoralized, perhaps really ill, and would need days to recover.
At the moment I have some close relatives and friends in hospital and I am reminded of the awfulness of it. Despite the best efforts of dedicated staff and family and friends. Just like anyone who has spent some weeks in hospital, I have seen all of the above.
You have to learn to survive. Anyone who has managed some months in a hospital ward will be an expert in this. My tips — linked to Christian notions of healing — are these.
- See Christ beyond all of this. Trust him. Lean into him. Thank him. Believe in him and never let him go. He is good, really good, and his power and purposes will prevail in my life. Say that over and over. Work it out in your mind. Never give up on it. Never.
- Give him your pain, and the pain you see in your loved one’s faces. It’s too hard to hold it yourself.
- Make up your mind to keep your humanity in this place. Thank the people who injure you. Smile. Ask them their name. Give them yours. Be courteous and kind. They are under pressure too. You will find other patients and medical staff who, in all the inhumanity, are trying to be human like you. Spark off each other. When your loved ones visit, thank them, appreciate them, serve them: make their visit as happy as you can. Give them your best. You may fail in all of this, often, badly, but at least try.
- Understand this is a season of suffering and you need to endure it. Endure it rather than rage against it.
- Find ways of being happy: a nice meal, a good film, a kind friend.
- Through the night, thank God for everything you can think of and pray his blessing on everyone you can think of.
This can’t be right. Can it?
I once looked at a writing job with a large Christian charity.
‘It’s mostly fundraising,’ they explained, ‘and we’ve got a good system.’
Their good system was:
- A fresh appeal every few weeks or months
- Cheap-looking paper
- Each mailshot made up of a few typed sheets, black and white photos, with “handwritten” additions and underlinings in red ink.
- Sent out to a carefully refined mailing list. Single women in their 40s-70s were the favoured audience.
- Guaranteed results.
I decided not to work for this charity.
Where does carefully monitoring the success of fundraising campaigns end? Where does cynical exploitation begin? I couldn’t figure that out, but I wouldn’t have felt right doing that job.
There has to be a better way, and that better way has to be us givers taking the initiative, giving regularly and generously to a set of good causes, and not letting ourselves be manipulated.
I’ve collected some blog posts specially for all the people who enjoyed my book More than Bananas – How the Christian faith works for me and the whole Universe. This title — a free download on Kindle– has been in the Kindle theology bestseller list for the past 9 months or so.
Here they are:
Even more bananas