It is 50 years since the publication of “Honest to God”, by John Robinson. If my health permits, I am hoping to attend over the next few weeks a short series of lectures / seminars exploring how the ideas in this book have infliuenced later thinkers, and what those attending make of them. In preparation for this, I have been re-reading the book itself.
I am not sure how much of the ideas I agree with (a position that John Robinson himself would probably recognise!), and may blog about some of these in the future. But the first thing that has struck me is the idea of “ringing bells”. This is where something that you read, hear about, or even just think, somehow resonates with something inside you, even when this is, or appears to be, opposed to the traditional expression of any ideas you may have been brought up with – in my case, the Christian faith. The opposite may also happen, i.e. some things that you read or hear which are the traditional expressions of faith may not resonate with you.
To give a couple of examples in my own case: one of the things that has always rung bells with me is the idea of religious pluralism: that no one faith should claim a monopoly of truth to the exclusion of all others (I would even go as far as including secular humanism in this, though it probably wouldn’t consider itself a “faith”, so perhaps “ideology” or “worldview” is a better categorisation). I don’t understand how this could be, but it is something that I instinctively feel to be true, and have done for most of my life. In fact, I can remember speaking about this at a Christian holiday home over 40 years ago, which caused quite a bit of discussion!
And an example of the opposite is that I struggle with the “penal substitition” doctrine of the atonement and forgiveness. For me, it seems too mechanistic, and leads to a picture of God which is too judgemental and is at odds with the idea of a God of love.
However, I could be wrong about any of this, as about anything else I include in my blog – hence the tagline. Just because I think something is true, or even feel something is true, doesn’t make it true. I may well have been “[taken] captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Colossians 2:8, NRSV).
So this means that I cannot impose my ideas on others, however loud the bells ring for me; and I need to respect those who think differently – and even those who do not respect my difference. But this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t at least share these ideas, and I hope that for some people they will resonate with them, and maybe even encouarge them in their current thinking (and doubting) about faith. We talk about marching to the beat of a different drummer; perhaps we all hear different bells ringing inside us.