The Temple Courtyard

The birds of appetite flock around the Temple Courtyard. They are hungry and thirsty. They tweet and twitter continuously. They listen to learned disputations. They circle and swoop. The Temple functionaries throw them crumbs. They enjoy having them around. They like the attention. They hope they might persuade some of them to enter the Temple itself.

Christian Apologetics is that branch of theology which deals with the rational defense and explanation of faith, an attempt to “justify the ways of God to men”, as John Milton put it. It is essentially a conversation between believers and non-believers, exemplified in our time by Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? Christian radio show and podcast, which hosts debates between prominent public intellectuals from both sides of the faith divide.

The science versus religion merry-go-round is a central attraction, turning as it does around such fascinating topics as cosmology, biology, evolution, mind and consciousness. There are also endless debates about meaning, purpose, morality, suffering, the nature of evil, politics, art, etc. etc. In fact, it isn’t just science versus religion, but also science versus philosophy and philosophy versus religion.

Many people have made a career out of these debates on media platforms like YouTube. Honourable mention should go to Robert Lawrence Kuhn (Closer to Truth), Jonathan Pageau (The Symbolic World), Bishop Robert Barron (Word on Fire), Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic), Stephen Woodford (Rationality Rules), Jordan Peterson, Paul Vanderklay and John Vervaeke.

There are the New Atheists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christoper Hitchens and their Christian antagonists, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Alister McGrath and David Bentley Hart. Many more names could be added to both lists. There is also a kind of Philosophical Apologetics, which argues for a saner approach to life than either the narrow scientistic or politically ideological worldviews afford, championed by the triumvirate of Roger Scruton, John Gray and Iain McGilchrist.

We have also recently seen a rise in Psychedelic Apologetics, the attempt to “justify the ways of psychedelics to men” (and women obviously). The recent conversation between Jordan Peterson and Roland Griffiths is a good example, as are the various drug enthusiasts on the Joe Rogan podcast, from Michael Pollan to Paul Stamets and Brian Muraresku.

These conversations are necessarily tentative and unbeliever-friendly. Too much devotional language or faith talk and the “birds of appetite” will simply fly away. Nudges and hints, crumbs and seeds is all they can handle. “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (1 Corinthians 3:2) But as as long as the non-believers and agnostics feel that they are getting “closer to truth”, they are happy to keep frequenting the Temple Courtyard.

I vividly remember one ayahuasca ceremony several years ago when the presiding shaman chided us for whispering amongst ourselves with the words, “less of the chitter-chatter”. This is how I feel now. Having talked and listened, read and written incessantly for years about this, that and the other aspect of religion and spirituality, it’s now time to be quiet, taking my cue from Thomas à Kempis in his treatise On The Blessed Sacrament:

“Go forward, then, with simple, undoubting faith, and come to this Sacrament with humble reverence, confidently committing to almighty God whatever you are not able to understand. God never deceives; but man is deceived whenever he puts too much trust in himself. God walks with the simple, reveals himself to the humble, gives understanding to little ones, discloses His secrets to pure minds, and conceals His grace from the curious and conceited.

All reason and natural research must follow faith, but not precede or encroach on it. For in this most holy and excellent Sacrament, faith and love precede all else, working in ways unknowable to man. The eternal God, transcendent and infinite in power, works mightily and unsearchably both in heaven and earth, nor can there be any searching out of His wonders. For were the works of God readily understandable by human reason, they would be neither wonderful nor unspeakable.”