Uncertainty Matters

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Monday 13 May 1963

‘This evening went to St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, for a meeting of the Christian Agnostics to hear the Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson, talking about his book Honest to God, which we had gathered to discuss.  The Reverend Joseph McCulloch has organised this group, justifying its name by reference to the line (from “Oranges and Lemons”) which runs: “I do not know – says the great bells of Bow”.

At the gathering were Canon John Collins of St Paul’s Cathedral, Father Corbishley (a Jesuit writer), George Dickson (an Industrialist), Duncan Fairn (who took the chair), Gerald Gardiner, Dr Graham Howe (the humanist psychologist), the Earl of Longford, Canon and Mrs Milford, Mrs JB Priestly and a number of others.

The Bishop opened by saying that secularism was not basically anti-Christian and that Christians must understand and even welcome the revolt against dualistic supernaturalism, the mythological view o the world and the religiosity of the Church.  He said his book was designed to help those who were in revolt to see the basic validity of the Christian message.

Canon Collins asked whether Christ was perfect, for if he was, he was then God.  Woolwich replied that he wanted to write a book about Christ and that the Virgin birth made Christ seem unreal.  Woolwich’s interest in Christ lay in his normality, not his abnormality.  He felt he could not make sweeping statements about Christ’s moral life, for what was significant was his obedience.  Collins replied that if you simply say Christ was “the best man I know”, Christianity could never get started.

We broke for supper and resumed for another hour and a half.  Later we had a much deeper discussion about the supernatural, in which I had a long confrontation with Corbishley about whether the evidence for the supernatural came really from external manifestations or the discovery of hidden depths.  Corbishley was splendidly Jesuitical in saying that you had to have mythology “to get people to pray”.  Here is the real nub of the question.  Is prayer a duty or a need?’

(The Best of Tony Benn: Edited By R Winstone, Arrow Books, (2015), Pages 37-38)

I am of the considered opinion that there is a way of knowing that is free of the structural limitations associated with all the conventional systems designed to ‘gather’ facts, and to separate fact from fiction.  This type of knowledge gathering is dualistic and inefficient from a universalist position, but highly efficient from a localised (and limited) perspective.  Modern science falls into this category, as do many religions.  Each system is a programmed device to declare certain phenomenon to be ‘real’ and other ‘phenomenon’ to be false.  This has allowed humanity to develop a certain efficiency of thought and action, and to invent medicine, technology and all kinds of labour-saving devices.  No one in their right mind would call this advancement wrong or incorrect (as the progressive results speak for themselves), and it would be correct to describe modern science as an all-embracing exercise in the management of ‘certainty’ – but what of ‘uncertainty’?  As the remit of modern science is incredibly narrow, it follows that by far the vast majority of existence does not fall into the declared ‘fact’ of scientific understanding.  Therefore science, although vitally important, cannot and does not represent the entirety of human perceptual awareness.  This means that there must be a central position of awareness that fully embraces the entire periphery of ‘knowing’ without any contradiction, partiality, or contradiction.  This, in effect, is the realised integration of ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ in an instant.  This would imply that everything exists and does not exist simultaneously – and this includes all notions of ‘god’ and ‘non-god’.  Although I am not religious in anyway, I can truthfully state that god exists AND does not exist in equal measure, and that I am disinterested in either view.

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