The preacher seemed evasive in his words; much was made of a belief in community and a belief in love, but the sermon was devoid of anything transcendent, devoid of any allusion to the divine. In former days, there would have been many speakers at Left-wing rallies who offered more that was visionary than the occupant of the pulpit. If there is no transcendence, if God is not an objective reality, then what is the point in it all? If one’s preoccupation is merely with social transformation, then why not join a radical political movement? Why attempt to use the church for a purpose for which it is not fit?
Reading Richard Holloway’s memoir, “Leaving Alexandria”, arouses fear that the preacher is not isolated in his views, that there are many others who are similarly sceptical about an objective God. Holloway recalls schooldays when he would tell classmates the stories of films he had seen at the weekend, then realized that, if he read newspaper reviews, he could similarly tell them of films he had not seen.
The former primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church writes,
What mattered to my friends in the playground on those Monday mornings was that I took them out of themselves with my fictions, not that I hadn’t actually seen the movies I described to them. Implicit in my fraudulence was a theory of religion, though it would take me years to figure it out. I was to become fascinated by Saint Paul’s description of Christian preachers as “deceivers, yet true”. We become true deceivers when we understand the purpose of our deceptions, when we admit that the stories we tell carry their own meaning within them, even if there is no objective reality beyond them, no movie actually seen, no stone actually rolled away from the tomb. Trouble comes when we understand what’s going on and start feeling guilty about it. That’s when we become false deceivers. To be a true deceiver you have to believe your description – the movie actually seen, the stone rolled from by an angel. Tell your listeners that there was no movie, no resurrection, but that the story has its own power to release them – try to stop deceiving them, in fact – and they will turn on you. This is why many preachers become imposters to themselves out of tenderness towards their hearers. Leaving Alexandria, pp.39-40
Richard Holloway seems a deeply lovable person, (friends who know him tell me he is so), but if his suggestion is correct, that the resurrection story is a fiction with meaning for its listeners, then I have wasted my entire life. If God is not an objective reality, if Jesus does not rise from the dead, then what is the point of it all? A noble and inspiring story? There are many such tales, but one hardly devotes one’s life to a tale; one hardly finds eternal life in a story. Holloway says many preachers are imposters: perhaps the preacher who spoke without mentioning transcendence was being honest. Perhaps the deeper worry should be with how many deceivers there are, true or false.