St Bride's: Sermons

"Rub Gently"

edward_king.jpgThe great 19th century Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King, once had to give a talk to a group of ordination candidates. He was about to leave Oxford to go to be Bishop of Lincoln, and all his books and papers were packed away. He was pondering on a text on which to base his talk when his eye lighted upon a match box on which were the words 'Rub Gently'. That became his text for those young men preparing for ministry.

Anyone engaged in theological discussion today would do well to take those words as their motto; 'Rub gently'. Do not be too abrasive or aggressive in the way you express your views, however passionately and sincerely you hold them. Respect the views of those who see things differently, and always be prepared to moderate or develop your own beliefs as you learn more and engage with others. It is a lesson that atheists as well as religious believers should take to heart. One of the most telling criticisms of Richard Dawkins' anti-God writings is the violently biased language he uses and his condescending ignorance of the belief systems he claims to criticise. Thus Dawkins is himself guilty of just the kind of fundamentalist bigotry he despises and attacks within the world's religions.

As Sally Vickers points out in her review of a delightfully gentle challenge to Dawkins, called Darwin's Angel, written by John Cornwell; "If only Professor Dawkins and Co would remember that Socrates was deemed the wisest of men because he "knew he didn't know".

The best kind of Anglican theology, represented by the saintly Bishop King, affirms the basic tenets of Christian belief but recognises that the tradition has developed and applied those insights in a variety of ways over the succeeding centuries. The future is open. We do not have certainty, and we have much to learn, from scripture, tradition, experience and each other. We have to learn to live together, to worship together, and to listen to each other. Therefore, "Rub gently," because religious faith is a journey of discovery, not assent to a rigidly prescribed set of dogmas: and as we travel together, who knows but that we may meet Christ upon the way even in the most unexpected of people and places.

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