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Wise, tolerant and beautiful
on 27 May 2005
A marvellous, wise and tolerant book. If I say that it is astonishing that it should have been written by a bishop, it is only because he examines and then discards so many teachings of the churches, from the idea that God has laid down the moral rules according to which we should live to the notion of life after death.
It has four chapters. The first deals with the questions that must torment every believer in the divine ordering of a world that is so full of impersonal and personal cruelty. If the universe is indifferent to us, that is no reason why we should not find a worthy purpose in our own lives. If we cannot believe that God is Love, we should continue to live as though He were present in love.
The fine second chapter deals with religious myths. A myth is not literally true, and it is stultifying and damaging if we believe that it is. But many myths tells us something about ourselves and often convey a wisdom about the human condition.
The third chapter addresses some of the dilemmas when we are faced by conflicting moral principles.
The most powerful and moving chapter is the fourth, which deals with the challenges of ageing and of death.
This bare summing up does not do justice to the book. The things he says are not, I think, particularly original, and I do not think he would claim that it is: one of the charms of the book is that he calls in aid philosophers, novelists and above all poets who have expressed in their own beautiful way what he is now telling us. As he says in his introduction, it is a very personal book, the book of a man who has thought deeply about what he has read and about what he has experienced himself in his own journey through life.