How many times have you heard that said in Chapel! A text, usually taken from the Scripture reading by one of you in Chapel, and then these words are added to it at the beginning and end of the homily. What does it mean? Simply this. The Chapel services at King’s-Edgehill School are explicitly Christian but in the awareness of the necessity of connecting the Christian understanding to the ways of thinking and speaking that belong to other world religions and philosophies. Why? Because they all contribute in one way or another to an ethical understanding of our lives together at once as selves, as a community, and as part of a global world in and through the diversities of language and culture.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the terms and images that belong to the Scriptural revelation of God in the New Testament and in the Christian understanding but as building upon images in the Jewish Scriptures and as drawing upon imagery and language from Greek culture. The point is not the cultural specificity of such things; the point is the universality of meaning that belongs to a consideration of the dignity of our common humanity.
But such familiar if mysterious words also point to an important feature of Chapel at the School. It is simply this: no name religion is no religion. It is only through the integrity of theological thought that one can engage in a respectful and responsible way with the different forms of thinking about reality that is an essential feature of education and of Chapel. The doctrine of the Trinity is the highest form of the Christian thinking about God; yet it compels a commitment and relation to other traditions, a thoughtful, responsible and dignified engagement which honours the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ idea of “the dignity of difference” between and among the religions and philosophies of the world.
What does it mean in the context of the Chapel service? Simply this. With these words, I place myself under an authoritative tradition and theological way of thinking. The homilies are not simply my poor words and endeavours to communicate or to entertain (hardly!). They are nothing apart from the words of Scripture which they attempt to serve. They are little more than an explication of the understanding of the images of Scripture, an attempt to connect through what has been communicated in the truest form of preaching, namely, the proclamation of the Word by you or your fellow students, words which provoke thought and challenge our thinking.
What does this all mean? It is really quite radical. It is about the truth of ourselves as selves as found in the Ipseity, to use the term of the French Phenomenologist philosopher, Michel Henry, the selfness of God himself, something known not by us in our cleverness but by God’s revealing of himself which is essential to himself. This is not unique to the Christian Faith though it takes a particularly explicit form in Christianity. God makes himself known to us without which we are not completely known to ourselves.
This is all part and parcel of the experience of Chapel which seeks to broaden our awareness and to open our eyes critically especially in the face of the narrow dogmatisms of contemporary culture in its idolatry of technology and in the destructive iconoclasms belonging to “the sovereign right of individual self-determination,” an epiphenomenon and consequence of Philip Rieff’s “psychological man.” This overplays the emotional at the expense of all other considerations, one of the three great untruths identified by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff (The Coddling of the American Mind), along with ‘fragility’ and ‘them vs us’ forms of thinking.
We are only who or what we think or feel we are? This leaves us imprisoned in ourselves and as such as nothing, not even ourselves. ‘I think I am x, therefore I am x’, but for how long before it changes to thinking that you are y? A kind of twisted version of Descartes’ cogito but without the recognition that the knower seeks to grasp reality which is greater than oneself. You are more than your self-images and psychological self-projections and feelings. Left to ourselves in the naked emptiness of ourselves in our illusions, we lose ourselves and our relation to one another, “straying,” as Nietzsche brilliantly puts it, “as through an infinite nothing” (The Gay Science). The idea of God in his infinite self-relation recalls us to ourselves in his love and mercy. We are who we are in God. Something worth at least pondering in our anxious times.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK Teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy