Richard Holloway – onetime Bishop of Edinburgh

January 24, 2016

This guy has been said to ‘preach a kinder sort of atheism’.  He has endorsed with approval a saying of the kind

‘Let us live the sort of lives which make our deaths unjust’

He has termed ‘bombast’ St Paul’s words on The Judgement:

‘Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’

Richard Holloway has referred to a Theory of the Universe which holds that all things will pass away, and all trace of what has been in being, shall be gone, and there shall be nothing, as if such things had never been.  No God, and meaning only in human terms, the residues of our acts of defiance against this situation or prospect.

‘Bombast’ is a word which derives from the term ‘bumbaste’ which denoted packing, or stuffing, like the wadding one fills cushions with, and it was in use by tradesmen in Elizabethan times in their course of business.  It was also transferred into the world of the theatre during that age, and it was there that first took on a usage meaning ‘loose additions, quips and other self-indulgent displays’ which some actors (and dramatists) interspersed (generally to the detriment) in performances of scripted works for theatre. From this usage the term went on so as to come to mean ‘vacuous braggart language’, which is what the term indicates to us today.

For a person to call St Paul’s words ‘bombast’ would probably mean that this person considered they had little if any firm meaning; and in this case, he is perhaps saying that at best, they are a rallying call, a morale booster, but of no truth value.

This ‘but is not true’ is itself then an addition, an interpolation, the ‘bumbaste’, in the Elizabethan sense of the term.

The belief that a person without aid from a source outside herself and also one more capable than any human source, is able, under her own abilities contribute to the goings-on of humans in the world anything which would or could make her death unjust; this is unfathomable to me, and very difficult to demonstrate empirically or scientifically.

Whereas the addition or the interpolation into the goings-on of the world of discordant and unbalancing contributions from any and every person’s life, whomsoever they are, are patent and Legion; and these are there for all of us to see, were we to be concerned enough to examine the facts.

St Paul goes on from his paean on The Judgement;

‘The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.’

This connection, its stain, is indelibly within us, and sin accompanying death, with death accompanying sin, is a central connection that Christians understand and use in making sense of life, and of an inevitable death. Regardless whether a person has any belief or favourable reasoning about the Garden in Eden and the Serpent and Adam and Eve, it cannot escape any person’s notice that people make hashes of things generally, and quite often particularly as well.

This is not merely the result of lack of adequate scientific knowledge; it is much worse than that.  Our fabricated divisions, our bad behaviour, our lack of caring, all of us, when set beside our inevitable ends pall into triviality and irrelevance, all.  A person who is about to die is either heartbrokenly, regretfully, full of contrition which wells up inside with a benevolence towards the people, all people, whom s/he leaves behind; or else s/he writes a will which leaves money and goods to favourites and damages those whom s/he dislikes; vicious and unregenerate to the end.

Although death remains The Great Leveller, it is the lot of ‘fate, chance, kings and desperate men’. Death is wholly democratic; and wholly despotic. We die equally; we die of necessity.

It is a folly to hope one might die unjustly. It is a folly to believe that one is able to do or say anything which would or could make this be possible to do, or to suffer.  Sending a final two fingers up at the universe may sound heroic, stoical, and a definitive flourish of bravura; but one would be kidding oneself that the gesture is any more than nothing, and because of this, one would be being foolish and inane.

Richard Holloway’s is not a ‘kinder sort of atheism’; it is crazy and doesn’t make sense.

As for the universe passing away and of a reversion of all things back into a primal nothingness; all being done and gone, whether lifeless or alive, this for me feels ‘the unkindest cut of all’.  To posit such a theory (hypothesis?) a scientist has to be almost criminally insane. Whoever s/he might be s/he has ridiculous delusions of grandeur.  Our feckless race cannot even predict next week’s weather well, let alone see into next year’s.  At best, if scientific understanding is in fact any sort of knowledge, we know only a thin section of the immensity. Why do we perpetually behave as if we were ever on the threshold of cleaning up once for all the final mysteries of life – and by means of science?

Does not this scientific hypothesis – does it deserve even this name? – of a return to nothingness presume greatly? – and is it not rather the swelling triumphalism of an egoistic, iconoclastic, mind which has deceived itself into believing that it has discerned the final solution? A misplaced mind which enjoys glorying in the thought of having usurped a Godly prerogative?  Drunk on wishful imagination. For does not accrue megalomaniac imagined power to the self psychologically–speaking, when one surrogates oneself in one’s mind as being in the place of God?  These kind of ‘hypotheses’ are thoughts which spring out of desperate ‘Look at Me!’ fantasies.

This is all folly. This is our sin. Thus our sin is our folly. And we are foolish feeble creatures – would-be wannabe Masters of the Universe.  In the light of such an understanding, if you are yet with me so far, and hanging in there, should we not do right to humiliate ourselves and so turn, and throw ourselves down before God and ask Him to help us?  Should we not pray, and offer up our folly, our sin, and ask his forgiveness, and request him to give us guidance, to make us clean, to help us do better, to succour us in our deaths and at the hour of our deaths?  To make manifest to us that his are the ‘everlasting arms underneath’ and are there for us always and wherever we are, and which always remain sustaining and caring for us; even after our deaths and our having passed from this world?

Such an understanding is no miracle, no fantasy, no folly, no blind hope nor desperate resort of my own, nor of those who hope in God.  That certainty of knowledge we which we assume we possess, in too many ways presents a hindrance to us seeing further; it masks us from seeing that there are indeed such things, including those Last Things, which are things able to present sound viable possibilities. And there is room yet for rational 21st century persons to place good hope in them