Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Richard Dawkins: devil’s advocate or phantom menace?

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

I’ve just watched Richard Dawkins The God Delusion on the Mo’ Fo’ channel. Last week we had his Faith School Menace; he’s on a roll!

As a Christian in the liberal tradition I believe we need Dawkins. We may often accuse fundamentalists and biblical-literalists of shoddy thinking, but Dawkins is consistent in demanding reasoned answers for all of religion’s claims. In the same way that the traditional process of declaring a person a saint in Catholicism has used a devil’s advocate to ask hard questions to cut through the wishful thinking and groupthink, Dawkins, rather than being feared or scorned, should be appreciated as one who splashes some cold water on the face of sleep-walking religion.

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Benediction

BenedictionTwo weeks ago, at the feast of St Luke, I officiated at a solemn evensong with benediction of the blessed Sacrament. It was the first benediction I had officiated at. I remember attending benediction for the first time as an undergrad at Durham and being moved by the experience, but without the theological literacy to unpack the experience. A few years later I attended another benediction in Cardiff. It was one of those ‘precious’ high churches, with bevies of ordinands trying to out do each other in the laciness of their cottas, and the smartness of their genuflections. That event put me off benediction for over a decade.

Personal experience must be at the heart of religious faith. One bad experience made me theologize that the efficacy of the eucharistic Sacrament is in the eating and drinking, leaving benediction high and dry from sacramental grace. I think this is the mainstream Protestant view of benediction. However, my recent experience, on the other side of the humeral veil, put me back in touch with my first, positive experience of benediction. Continue reading


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Ad fontes of Christian humanism

I’ve recently updated my What page, so I thought I would also copy it here as a post for comment.

GarshuniAd fontes is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the sources’, a favourite motto of Renaissance humanism. I am particularly thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam with this phrase, recalling his invaluable biblical scholarship. Renaissance humanism both laid the groundwork for the Reformation and re-engaged with the writers of the early church.

The term ‘humanism’ is only applied retrospectively to this movement. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest meaningful occurrence in the French humanisme of 1765, with the meaning of ‘love of humanity’, with a German reference to Humanismus from 1808 being used to describe the classical syllabus of the gelehrten Schulen (‘learned schools’, grammar schools). Our universities’ humanities divisions and faculties are named after this understanding of humanism. It didn’t take long for the term to acquire two more widely applied senses: the intellectual movement of the Renaissance and a philosophy oriented toward the human. There are a few sparse uses of the term ‘humanism’ to refer to a doctrine that Jesus Christ has a merely human nature (adoptionism, ebionitism and perhaps unitarianism), and Schiller used the term as a name for pragmatism; these are not my doctrines, nor my intended meaning. Continue reading