Second Part

0:09:07 Of the Oxford group including Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, I met the latter two or three times; didn't greatly like their views as I began to study theology as it occurred to me that they hadn't really assimilated the philosophies I liked, nor biblical criticism; their Christianity was of a rather neo-orthodox kind which didn't attract me; in philosophy at this time I was coming to be deeply influenced by Kant and Kierkegaard, and Hume because he was the set topic for the Part III; I had been very keen on mysticism, I knew the negative way by giving up the images, and tended to see critical thinking in religion as a matter of refining, purifying, emptying out, giving up, inadequate and merely human images; my religion was getting rather austere and abstract at that stage; I liked a very high orthodox theism; I did not like any religious wish-fulfilment or anthropomorphism, and I greatly admired the painting of people like Mark Rothko, Jews who similarly were religious minimalists; I reached my very radical views in religion by pushing high orthodoxy even higher to the point where God became an abstract ideal rather than a person; in that I was very different from C.S. Lewis and his generation with their literary and aesthetic attitude to religion, they liked what Lewis called thick religion, with as much blood, mythology and symbolism as possible, like Geoffrey Hill who thinks that there can't be any true religion without lots of blood; I liked thin religion, I suppose because I was already disgusted by the amount of irrationality and wish-fulfilment that there is in religion; I remember my grandmother saying to me after the 1947 Harrow train crash that she had been thinking of catching that train but God had warned her not to; I thought, “What about the people who were on the train” - that kind of naive belief that the universe revolves around you and wants to secure your well-being and so on, I always hated; some people used to accuse me of being almost Islamic in my liking of a very abstract notion of God being a cosmic law-giver rather than as personal providence; I always liked the Second Isaiah who emphasised that God was beyond language; as I liked the negative way in mysticism that meant I wanted a critical thinking, to see religious thought as a kind of journey into darkness and unknowing, and I still do; religion is about learning to be at ease with the void and with death, learning to accept the emptiness and mystery that surrounds our life and not being completely terrified and out of your mind by it; all my life I have seen people who find it very difficult to bear the end of life after death; I have always wanted to overcome that and by being as dry and austere as possible to look the truth of the human situation full in the face and accept it; I didn't want a religion of fear, of wish-fulfilment, I simply wanted to look the truth in the face and survive; I moved towards a view of God as a very exalted spiritual ideal of perfection; I had not quite reached this stage at Westcott where I would still have called myself sympathetic to Anglo-Catholicism and to Aquinas, but Kant and Kierkegaard were becoming the main influence; they still were in the 1960s when I didn't respond very warmly to John Robinson 'Honest to God'; I knew him quite well, but thought the 1960s radicals too keen to humanize God; at that time I was still very high orthodox; it is often hard to reconstruct one's own thinking in retrospect; when I read one of my old books again I am surprised how much of my later thinking is already in it, on the other hand, at that time I wouldn't have read them in that way and wouldn't have seen it; as the years pass, some things become more salient in your thinking and some less, as the arrangement of thoughts in your head changes; although it seems to me that my thinking has changed radically all my life, often quite recent thoughts are already to be seen in my early stuff; the whole notion of what our mental development is and how it takes place is rather mysterious to me; I have called my writing a 'projet fleuve' and you are meant to understand the whole thing as a kind of personal story because I don't believe that any human being will ever again be able to suppose that he has caught the whole of reality in a single system of thought; once you introduce a time dimension, once you think of everything as relative, transient, flowing, a 'projet fleuve' is all you can do, and this is how it has seemed to me over the period from the 1960s to now when I have been writing; my books are the only autobiography I can produce; I don't really know why I have travelled this way; I don't believe in metaphysics any more but I do believe in writing as an attempt to describe one's own journey; I have sometimes said, “Would anybody like to take up my project and continue from me as I lose the ability to continue with it?”; one or two people might want to try to do that; so instead of writing traditional, systematic, philosophy or theology, I have done a sort of confessional engagement with my own times - a kind of spiritual autobiography which has documented how someone like me has changed over these generations; I am also aware that it is one of the most violent periods of change in the whole of human history; we have grown up in all sorts of ways; the film 'Hue and Cry' (Ealing Studios, c1949) portrays a gang of boys in west London, a ruined city; when I saw that film not long ago I realized that it was my own childhood; the extent to which the world has changed since the 1940s when I was a boy in west London, is amazing

10:32:02 After Westcott House I was ordained and went back to Salford, Lancashire, as an assistant curate; the old Anglican system was that you could only be ordained if a church guaranteed to pay you for your curacy; when a bishop ordained somebody that person became part of the bishop's ‘familia’, and the bishop was responsible for his upkeep as the Medieval church didn't want the scandal of wandering clerics; to avoid this the incumbent of a parish guaranteed  to pay him; my title was as Curate at St Stephen's, Salford, whose Rector was Gwilym Morgan, and that made it possible for the Bishop to ordain me; nowadays that has rather fallen apart because the Bishops, I think rather unjustly, ordained hundreds of women without title, many of whom have never got stipendiary jobs; I was there for two years and then the offers from Cambridge started to come in; I came down to look at Trinity Hall and Corpus, but I had promised already that I would go back to Westcott House if called upon as vice-Principal, and I ended up by going there in the Summer of 1962; I was ordained Deacon fifty years ago this year in June 1959 age twenty-five, was in Salford from then until 1962, and then I moved into Westcott House in the late Summer and began to write my lectures for the Autumn term; while at Westcott House I taught in effect the whole syllabus of theology; the Principal didn't do much lecturing but concentrated on administration; I enjoyed teaching because teaching undergraduates requires one to clarify one's own ideas; we worked far too hard in retrospect; the Westcott House day started at 7.00am with meditation, then there was matins, then the Eucharist, then breakfast with youngsters talking animatedly throughout, four hours teaching until lunch, prayers just before lunch, then there were activities in the afternoon and evening, then evensong, meditation and dinner, so the day ended at 10.00pm; this was seven days a week; I got used to being a workaholic; after a year I began to feel very lonely in the vacations and married; Susan Day, whose brother had been a friend of mine during national service, lived near us in Buckinghamshire where my parents were then living; Susan was a modern linguist and was secretary to the foreign editor of 'The Times'; after we had dinner one evening it was obvious that we should marry; she was startlingly beautiful then, and remained so for thirty years; I was just lucky that she said yes; we had three children, a boy and two girls, and all doing fine; we were twenty-nine and twenty-six when we married, and we had children straight away; we married without money really; I started in Salford on £400 a year, and at Westcott House on £800; in 1965 Emmanuel offered me a fellowship which I accepted; I started there on £1750 a year; we had no capital, no house, and lived in a house provided by Westcott; curiously, one did seem to survive in those days in what now seems to be a state of great insecurity; I would be aghast if my own children were as hard-up as I was when young

17:53:14 Dennis Nineham, the Regius Professor of Divinity and Fellow of Emmanuel College, was also Chairman of the Council of Westcott House; when the Deanship of Emmanuel became vacant Dennis thought I was the right person to be offered it, together with a college lectureship in theology and a directorship of studies, where later philosophy was added to theology; this just gave us enough to live on and even to start a mortgage; when we had been at Emmanuel for just one year a lectureship came up in the faculty and I was lucky enough to get an assistant lectureship in the University; by that time I was thirty-four but Cambridge teaching jobs are much sought after, luckily I was just offered jobs and did not have to produce a CV as one would do now; in those days you did not have to sell yourself but patrons found you, a relic of the old patronage system of England; as well as getting an assistant lectureship Dennis saw that I got the Stanton Lectureship in the same year; a year before the College had nominated me to be a University Proctor, so at the end of the 1960s in a single year I had nine stipendiary jobs in Cambridge; it seems crazy, but the stipends were not large, for instance, as Director of Studies I got about £30 a year; I remember when I was Senior Proctor, the stipend for the Vice-Chancellor, Eric Ashby, was £400 plus a concrete block for his bicycle in the Old Schools with the University arms painted on it; Cambridge rather assumed that you had private means at that time; Emmanuel has shot up in standing during my time; when I arrived there it had rather a low standing and a high proportion of the undergraduates left with ordinary degrees rather than honours degrees; some of the dons dated from the old pre-critical era and still saw the University passing on a fixed body of knowledge, mainly the classics of Greek and Latin literature; then a series of reforming Masters, backed by efficient Bursars, began to raise the standards - renewing buildings, appointing better and more fellows, and taking pains to get really good applications; nowadays the College is reckoned one of the top two or three almost every year; we have had a line of particularly good Senior Tutors who have raised the status of the College; one of my consolations has been to have really good students to teach, a comfort if your views mean you don't do very well at Cambridge

23:19:11 My first books appeared in about 1970 - the Stanton Lectures; in 1973 I had a period of high mental excitement when I discovered I could do speculative thought, and knew that for the rest of my life I would do creative writing, creative religious thought, having new ideas; 'The Leap of Reason' is now dated and I haven't read it for many years, but it was in writing that book that I discovered that I could psych myself up to such a state of mental arousal that thinking was just like rolling out a carpet and watching the pattern come into view; the sense of exultation and power was so great everything became clear; the book eventually appeared in 1976; at the same time I joined a group that produced a book called 'The Myth of God Incarnate' which caused a bit of a scandal; this was the first book by church men and women theologians which argued that we should recognise the mythological character of the idea of incarnation; in 1979-80 I published 'Taking Leave of God' and that did shut down my career, and finished me as far as academy and church were concerned; before it came out I knew that I would get into trouble, but I also thought that it was sufficiently new and striking that I couldn't not publish it; it sold 3000 very fast in the first year; I did not ask anyone else to read it before publication, but John Bowden, the managing editor of SCM Press said it might cause trouble, that it was a renewal of the radical theology of the 1960s coming back, but I wasn't particularly warned; it was really an ultra-Kantian book; in Kant's philosophy, God survives only as an ideal of reason, traditional metaphysical belief comes to an end, and it becomes possible to see God as an object like a pearl of great price in the parables of Jesus, a symbol of the goal of spiritual life, but God can't be thought of as any kind of causal explanation for the existence of the world; I would have said at the time that I can keep the religious value of ‘God’ but am giving up the metaphysics because that has been taken over by science; we don't really need that end of the idea of God but do still need the spiritual goal end; for me God is still omega if I can't say that he is both alpha and omega; of course, the Church was outraged and wouldn't buy this at all; I was defended by the then Master of Emmanuel, Derek Brewer; Bob Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked about my being prosecuted for heresy at the Church courts; he employed various people to draft replies, but his official line was that academics must be free to explore new lines of thought; the implication was that if a parish priest had similar ideas he might be in dire trouble; I was defended too by the then Bishop of Ely; I found it a considerable psychological setback, but I was befriended by John Robinson himself who was then Dean of Trinity; he was thrilled that somebody had come along who was a step further on than he had been; we had a couple of public debates and I preached twice for him; interestingly, although John always claimed himself to be still a realist about God, he never said that I was wrong; for him God was either only a personification of Love, or he could be read, in a Martin Buber sense, as saying that God was an unknown, infinite person who called upon us to see everything in a personal way; some existentialist theologies of encounter in that period took that line and part of John Robinson was saying that; I didn't say that but was saying we had to give up the idea of God as a really existent super-being; it doesn't make sense, it never did; I could just have defended my view on the ground that it was always Christian orthodoxy that all theological statements are analogical or symbolic, no theological statement is literally true; the mystics had always said that, even the second Isaiah said it; at a pinch, in the Church courts, if I had been in robust health and able to defend myself, I might just have been able to defend my position as being dogmatic symbolism; I suspect that some such view is actually held by a high proportion of theologians but I had been more explicit; perhaps my sin was that I had come out too much into the open

32:29:19 In 1976 I had got tenure with a university lectureship, I was on the professional plateau and couldn't quite be thrown out; happily the Bishop of Ely, the Master of Emmanuel and the Archbishop of Canterbury were all friends and supported me in response to indignant letters calling for a trial; I could survive, but on the other hand I was tarnished; the most you could hope for was that with time the heat would simmer down, but John Robinson never recovered from 'Honest to God', he never got another job except as Dean of Trinity and that was a respectable niche where he could bat out time; 'Honest to God' gave a whole generation of young people the possibility of become Christians again; it was a great work of Anglican theology by a chap who was as Anglican as you can get; Michael Ramsey's refusal to back him and his kowtowing to evangelicals by condemning it meant that the radical position in the Church of England was really finished; in the long run the evangelicals took over after 1963, they are now the majority in the Church of England, and there is no future for people like me; I began to realize that in 1980; the church authorities would always side with the evangelicals because they were afraid that if it came to a major trial in the church courts the evangelicals would win as they were more orthodox in terms of literal adherence to the founding documents of the Church of England; this meant the kind of critical thinking I believe in is in the long run incompatible with membership of the church because it can never accept critical thinking; the Western church will have to go the same way as the Russian church in the end, and hopes of reform and renewal for the Episcopal churches of the West have had it; the whole idea that any community has a hot line to truth is out of date now; that is why I have now, very reluctantly and sadly just recently discontinued communion; it was very painful and I hated it, after sixty years, but I felt I had to do so; John Robinson, to some extent, tried to work his way back into respectability, but I won't do that; I think it is time to admit that once you move over to a critical view of scripture and Christianity you can no longer belong to one of the traditional scriptural religions which have a fixed framework of thought; in my most recent theology I align myself a bit more with people like the Quakers and say I am a post-ecclesiastical sort of Christian; I greatly love Christian culture, ethics and spirituality, I admire Jesus for his extraordinary ethical radicalism, and I would like to imagine a new secular future for Christianity, but I don't think we can any longer hope to maintain the continuity of the Church, the apostolic succession, the tradition of truth within a community

38:36:21 'The Sea of Faith' was my third television series and came out in 1984; Peter Armstrong, the producer, suggested trying to do a systematic theology, but I thought I was not ready for that; what we eventually did was a series of six television documentaries which are historical studies of major challenges to religious belief since Galileo; when it came out it was accompanied by a large book and also a number of articles in 'The Listener'; it did quite well and attracted a fair bit of interest, and was my single most successful book; limited though the medium is, I don't regret having done a bit of television; the evangelicals managed to stop it being broadcast at all in the USA, but it was shown in Australia and New Zealand and gave rise to Sea of Faith networks there as well as here; these are groups of people scattered round the country, radical Christians, some clergy, some lay, some still within the church, some outside; people try to discuss their own religious future and what they believe

40:48:07 On the Dawkins' controversy, as far as the biology is concerned he is obviously right; he is right to object to the irrationality of the evangelicals and the threats that they present to scientific education and medical research; the controversy itself is Victorian, and since philosophy now has moved into entirely different regions it does not interest me greatly; unlike Dawkins I think religion continues to be interesting after you have given up belief in any supernatural world; remember that from the time of Galileo and Descartes onwards, modern science was based on leaving out all ideas of purpose and meaning being built into the external world; the idea that events in the world happen in accordance with the will of a personal providence that is directing us all towards a moral goal is obsolete anyway; once the universe had become mechanised in the seventeenth-century the death of God was inevitable; Darwinism only repeated the same point

42:47:21 I think Westerners since the Romantic Movement have got fairly used to the idea that there can be a religious experience, for example of the sublime in nature, that is not theistic; we have known about Buddhism for a long time; a number of Western philosophers like Spinoza are clearly religious in the sense that they are seeking to place the individual in the world, to help the individual find a religiously satisfying vision of life, without anything like orthodox belief in God; it doesn't seem to me that the relation to God is part of the definition of religion, rather I want to know what a human being is, what I am, how my life fits into the general stream of life; I want some understanding of my place in the scheme of things - what I can know, what I can hope for, what kind of happiness a human being can enjoy, or whether human life is hopelessly tragic and unable to cope with the thought of death; how do we respond to a sort of vision of the world that emerged after World War II in the thought of people like Beckett, Sartre, and so on, which all my life has been part of the mental landscape? I want the possibility of a spirituality but without the old metaphysics, and this feeling goes back at least as far as Pascal; you notice in Pascal two things are happening, one is that the external world can no longer be viewed as a world controlled by a benign divine providence, and secondly, we have to start from ourselves; the reconstruction of modern knowledge after the Enlightenment is entirely from the point of view of the human being who looks at the world around him without dependence on divine revelation; the modern situation is anthropocentric and we have to find God within ourselves; that changeover from the vision of a world ruled over by divine law to a vision of the world that comes out of the human heart, the shift you see in Blake and Wordsworth, and which is foreshadowed in Jesus himself; he also is breaking with the idea of an external law ruling human life and instead talks about a new way of living from the heart in which human relationships are put first; I still see Jesus as a sort of pioneer of modernity; he successfully radicalized the message of the prophets who had themselves said that at the end of time the law would be written on the heart and God would put his spirit within us; some kind of internalization of religion within the human being was already looked forward to in the Old Testament and taken forward in the New Testament; in my view, religion needs to become much more anthropocentric, much more a matter of the individual’s imagination and attempt to project meaning into life; I now talk about ‘the religion of ordinary life’ and point out the extent to which in the last half century idioms about life have taken over in our language the place formerly taken by idioms about God; this starts in a very big way in D.H. Lawrence and F.R. Leavis, but can be found in earlier writers; people talk about a life as if it were God, they talk about faith in life, loving life, being committed to life, learning the lessons of life, and so on; I think that now in our rather post-religious epoch people see the stream of life itself as taking the place of God; it is in life that we live, move and have our being; the lines "life is God”, and to “love life is to love God” appears in 'War and Peace'; ‘everything moves and changes together and that movement is God’; Hegel calls it geist; interesting that odd pioneers in the Romantic Movement are beginning to change over to a new kind of theology which is completely secular, immanent and human, and that is what I have been groping after in the last ten years; it has a Christian origin but is a kind of fulfilled Christianity and is post-ecclesiastical, no longer preparing for another world above, rather it is teaching us to live life to the full here below; I nowadays urge people to be nihilists, to give up all ideas of a supernatural world, God, and life after death, and look for the possibility of a fully religious existence and love of life here and now

50:14:19 There is a resonance in China and Japan; I was much influenced by Dogen and some other Japanese writers; in 1945-7 there was in Denmark a group of poets and theologians who wanted to articulate a new religion of life on the basis of Kierkegaard; they saw Western existentialism as culminating in a purely religious affirmation of this life and a kind of aestheticizing of life; you can see this beginning to appear in art in French Impressionism, a visual joy in the transient world; all the things that Plato put lowest in value - shadows, water, trees, plants - are suddenly looked at with intense love because they are transient; look at a paintings by Roger van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck where the saints and angels are perfect, ideal, symmetrical faces, and are stone dead, but look at the patron at the bottom of the painting who is old and worn, and much more interesting; I don't want timeless, sexless, celestial love, I'd sooner have human love; I want an intense religious affirmation just of this life and just of transience; that is why recently I've even gone so far as to outrage John Hick by denying the problem of evil, I want to say yes to metaphysical evil; the film 'Wings of Desire' is about a man who is offered the choice of being an angel or a human being, and he chooses the latter as he would rather have human love plus death than be immortal but sexless; I want to make religion totally this-worldly and irreversibly so; I also want to say that we are lucky to live in our own epoch, the first age in all of human history where ordinary people of the poorest class can have a full-length life, reasonable health and education, justice, peace and prosperity, and access to culture; no society before has achieved as much, it can be done, so there is no reason why this life shouldn't be made a lot better; to the Americans I say I don't want you evangelicalism, I would rather have European social democracy and welfare state; the churches' provision of almshouses and prayers for the sick was on a pathetically small scale and completely inadequate compared with what we can now do; I want people now to see that modern civil society is a lot more Christian than the churches, not least in its attitude to women and gays; this is the theme of a recent book; I want to make people aware that the decline of ecclesiastical Christianity is not the decline of religion altogether, we have gained more than we have lost; the decline of religion is already far advanced in Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park'; she was well aware that the replacement of the old Anglican landowners had already begun; I no longer want to struggle for favour with the Church, but rather to persuade people that religion is not over and it is possible to find a way of saying yes to life which includes accepting its transience without complaint

56:45:22 I have wanted to democratize both philosophy and theology; historically, philosophy was an elite subject but today with mass higher education we are actually teaching philosophy to a mass audience, far bigger than the great figures of the past would ever have imagined; theology in the past was written for church leaders and it was an ideology of ecclesiastical power; I have tried instead to base my religious language on ordinary language; I wrote a book called 'The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech' in which I listed the most important new idioms about life which have come in since World War II, and plotted those idioms against the traditional doctrine of God to show to what extent we have transferred the religious focus from God to ordinary life; the obvious way is in which the funeral service in modern England is nearly always the closure of a life and not about another life after death; in philosophy I have tried to say that we can be content with the world view that is the product of our ordinary, everyday conversation with each other; in ordinary language we have come to use the word perception to mean interpretation, when we talk about the difference between one person's perception of an issue and another's, perception means interpretation; it is not only the philosophers who are no longer the blank-slate empiricists they used to be, ordinary people have got the message too; I have rather specialized in my recent books in putting into bold type little phrases taken from ordinary language that make quite sophisticated philosophical points; I claim that my current philosophy and religion of life is in fact what is already emerging in ordinary language; I say to the reader that I am not trying to foist my ideas on you, but am trying to show you what already shows up in your own language; in that way I am trying to make philosophy and theology more democratic subjects which will be accessible to ordinary people